A woman’s pregnancy is supposed to be a reason to celebrate – baby showers, nursery decorating, and 3D ultrasounds. When you’re pregnant the last thing you should have to worry about is your job. Unfortunately, pregnancy discrimination seems to be on the rise in American workplaces. Employment lawyers like me seem to be getting more and more phone calls from women claiming that they were fired because of their pregnancy.
What is Pregnancy Discrimination?
In 2013 I got a phone call from a woman who said that she got fired after she delivered a stillborn baby. I almost fell out of my chair. The company fired her the day she returned from maternity leave. After filing the case we discovered that the company made the decision to terminate her after she informed the owners that her baby had passed. We also found out that after making the decision to terminate her, the company hired an auditor to come in and “audit” her department to find that she was performing poorly. However, documentary evidence showed that she was a great employee. The case failed to settle and proceeded to trial. The jury found that the company discriminated against her because of her pregnancy and awarded her substantial punitive damages.
While this was an unusual case, it highlights the opposite of how a company should act. A company should never make a decision to fire a woman because she is pregnant, because she is having complications, or because she is planning on taking a maternity leave. While that may seem like common sense in today litigious environment, I am continuously surprised how often expecting women are fired for suspicious reasons.
A Rise in Pregnancy Related Lawsuits
My firm receives hundreds of phone calls each year from prospective clients. Over the last year or so, we’ve noticed a lot more calls from women who believe they were fired or passed over for a promotion because of they became pregnant or had a pregnancy related disability. We’re not the only ones who have noticed this. More and more lawsuits are being filed and federal and state legislatures are enacting or trying to enact more laws to protect women.
Why are their more lawsuits? It may be because more women are career driven today than in the past. Human Resources MBA has a great info graphic discussing this. Inevitably, this topic also leads lawyers to talk more about gender discrimination (which is also unlawful under Federal and State law). Regardless of the reason, lawyers are trying to help their clients in whatever situation they happen to find themselves in.
What Should You Do If You Are a Victim of Pregnancy Discrimination
A lot of pregnant women who are still employed call my firm because they are starting to sense that their manager is upset with them. “What should I do?” “Should I go to HR?” “Should I complain?” “Can I go on maternity leave early?” All of these questions are valid but each and every situation is different. Further complicating the issue is that each state has different laws on point. For example, in California there are a multitude of laws that could apply to a woman’s situation: Pregnancy Disability Leave, the Fair Employment & Housing Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, the California Family Rights Act, the Labor Code, State Disability Insurance, etc.
I first recommend that you spend some time doing basic online research. Look up your respective state’s labor department and see if there are any online resources. You should also speak with HR if your company has competent HR professionals. If you feel like the situation is worsening I recommend that you call a lawyer. Many employment lawyers like me who represent individuals will do a free consultation over the phone.
Hopefully you are never in this situation. A woman’s pregnancy should be celebrated and a time of great excitement. Although pregnancy discrimination seems to be on the rise, collectively we can fight against it by informing each other of the laws that protect women. So please do your research and don’t be afraid to call a lawyer!
If you have additional questions concerning pregnancy discrimination, visit WorkplaceFairness and see their pages on parental leave and pregnancy discrimination. If you need help finding a lawyer, visit their attorney database here.
About the Author: Branigan Robertson is an employment attorney in Irvine, California. He is a member of the California Bar and the California Employment Lawyers Association. He exclusively represents CA employees in lawsuits against employers and focuses his practice on pregnancy discrimination and wrongful termination. Visit his law firm’s website for more information.